Remembering Katrina: The Worst Hurricane To Affect The Mississippi Gulf Coast
About Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina was one of the most deadly storms to ever hit in American history. Katrina formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005. It started out as a tropical depression but, on the following day, formed into a tropical storm and headed towards Florida. On August 25, 2005, two hours before making landfall between Hallandale Beach and Aventura in Florida, Katrina strengthened into a hurricane. Katrina made landfall in Florida as a category 1 hurricane with winds of 80 mph. The rain and flooding was one of the biggest problems for the people of Florida leaving them with over 12 inches of water in certain places. After leaving its mark on Florida, Katrina briefly weakened back into a tropical storm before making its way into The Gulf of Mexico on August 26, 2005. Katrina stayed over The Gulf for about 3 days strengthening into a category 5 hurricane with winds of over 200 mph. On August 29, 2005, Katrina made landfall briefly on the Louisiana/ Mississippi state-line before making its final landfall on The Mississippi Gulf Coast as a category 3 hurricane. A few hours after Katrina made landfall in Mississippi, a levee along Lake Pontchartrain was breached, thus starting the flooding of New Orleans.
The eye of the hurricane was directly over The Mississippi Gulf Coast that morning leaving residents with fear of what was about to come.
The MS Gulf Coast before Katrina
Highway 90, which runs through the seaside cities of Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula, has always been the heart of The MS Gulf Coast even after Katrina’s rampage. Highway 90 used to be the place to be before Katrina. We have since rebuilt but if you were ever here before Katrina hit, you’d know what I mean when I say we’ll never be the same. Highway 90 has been home to casinos, amusement parks, water parks, arcades, and even beautiful seaside mansions.
Casinos arrived in 1992 when those who saw them as a boosted economy outvoted the ones who didn’t. Even though casinos were now allowed to be built on the coast, there was a catch. The casinos were not allowed on land. They were to be built on barges in the water. After Katrina, the law that stated casinos were to be built on water was revoked as a result of the catastrophic damage Katrina done. Some of the same casinos we have today withstood Katrina but most did not.
Two days before Katrina decided it’s path, South Mississippians were faced with the decision that would change their lives forever. Many people chose not to evacuate because they thought, “Oh, well my house withstood Camille. I should be good.” Others thought the storm would steer more towards Louisiana sparing the coast. One day before Katrina made landfall, Jim Cantore, a hurricane reporter, had done a live broadcast from Biloxi Beach. Ever since he’s been to the coast that one time in 2005, people have learned to pack up and leave once they see Jim on our beaches.
The MS Gulf Coast During Katrina
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the morning of August 29, 2005, around 6 that morning on The MS Gulf Coast as a category 3 hurricane. Katrina came barreling in with wind speeds of more than 125 mph winds and a 25-30 ft storm surge. The rain wasn’t the biggest problem, neither was the wind, the biggest threat to us was the storm surge. The wind and rain were awful but once we saw the storm surge, we knew our coast was about to be destroyed.
As the water rose, Gulf Coast residents were not prepared for how high the water was going to get. Some people had 14 foot of water in their houses as they clung to attic rafters hoping someone was going to come and rescue them. Others were on their roofs trying to stay safe. Some of the people on their roofs would spell out messages so helicopters passing could take a picture and share it so the person’s family members would know they’re okay. Others were trying to swim for safety as their entire houses were engulfed in the rising waters.
Nobody knew what was happening unless you had access to a radio. Little did anybody know the destruction that Katrina had already made to our coast. As the storm surge started, boats were being pushed into homes across Highway 90. Most of the seaside mansions and homes were already reduced to rubble in a split second. Some of the casinos were being thrown and slung out of the water by the high speed winds across 90 crushing homes and everything else in its path.
I remember sitting in my grandma's kitchen cranking a weather radio trying to find out information about the storm. I was about to turn 5 when the storm hit. As a child, I didn't understand the gravity of the situation. As an adult now, who still lives on The MS Gulf Coast, I know what to do when a hurricane like that comes back again. Leave before it even makes it close to you because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
I remember tid bits of going out during the eye of the hurricane. As soon as I stepped outside, I had gotten the most gut wrenching feeling that something bad was about to happen even though we were only driving 5 minutes down the road to go check on my aunt’s house. I can’t recall that much because i was five but i do still have some of the most vivid flashbacks to the days we were stuck inside my grandma’s with no power or water.
At this point in time, my family and I lived in an old house that was built a while before I was born by my father’s grandpa. It wasn’t the best but what I would have done to have that house back instead of the tiny FEMA trailer we were given. Some people had gotten FEMA cottages but others got FEMA trailers. Our house was destroyed by the storm so me, my mom, my dad, and brother all lived in this one bedroom FEMA trailer for what felt like forever but in all reality it was only maybe a little less than a year.
The MS Gulf Coast After Katrina
As the waters subsided and the wind and rain went away, residents were finally able to go outside and assess the damage that had happened to their property. Even though we were still out of power and water, people were happy that it was over. There were mixed emotions everywhere. This was the worst thing to ever happen to the coast. People were crying as they looked through the rubble where their houses stood before. You could hear peoples screams as they found out that their loved ones had died during the storm.
You could drive 5 minutes down the road and see about 20+ empty slabs where homes once stood. Mostly all that was left of people’s homes were just the stairs leading to nowhere. The days following were awful. People were looting, there were shootings, people ran out of food, people were just trying to survive. The Red Cross came to help out along with other volunteers from all over.
Food trucks began setting up in parking lots to serve hot plates because nobody could really cook anything other than like hot dogs or beans. I remember my mom coming home with MREs for all of us. If you don’t know what a MRE is, it stands for Meals Ready To Eat. It was basically powdered food that activated when you added boiling water. To this day when i see one of those, I cringe just thinking about having to live off of those again.
Schools started setting up and letting people who lost their homes stay there even though there was no running water or power. Most people were without power or water for over a month, even though our electric crews were working day and night to restore power back to the coast. During the time the power was out, my family and I stayed with my grandma at her house. We did have a generator but getting fuel for it was an obstacle. For weeks after the storm, gas prices were jacked all the way up to 4 dollars per gallon. If you could even find a gas station with gas, you’d have to wait almost all day to even be able to fill up if they hadn’t already ran out while you were waiting in line. Gas stations from Mississippi to Arkansas were out of gas completely. This was a horrible time for everyone on the coast. It was 100+ degrees outside with the humidity at 100% and people had no water, power, shelter, or food.
When we were finally able to see pictures or go down and see the damage to Highway 90, mostly everyone knew at that point that our coast would never be the same bustling city it used to be. This was a sad time for everybody. Homes were destroyed. People lost their lives. The coast was basically just a blank slate at this point that was covered in rubble.
Mississippi Strong: 14 Years Later
Fourteen years later and we have since rebuilt. Our bridges were built to withstand hurricane force winds. Some of our casinos have moved to land but others that made it through Katrina stayed where they were. Highway 90 is still not the same as before Katrina. Before, it had places and things for people to do everywhere you looked. Today, Highway 90 has more restaurants than we did before but the entertainment for children was never rebuilt. Some people are still trying to get 90 back to the way it used to be. Maybe someday it will be. To this day, you can still drive down the beach and see empty plots where houses once stood. Some of them have rebuilt but others will not because of what happened during Katrina. It’s just so odd and eerie driving down the beach seeing how it still is. I was 4 but I remember all of the nice homes that were once there. Today, we’re still rebuilding but we’re definitely Mississippi strong.